The next round of briefs in the Florida sports betting case arrived Monday, shedding light on the federal government’s approach.
The federal government, in representing the Department of Interior, filed its answering brief in the appeal over the 2021 gaming compact between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis. This brief might be a little awkward on the surface; after the Seminole Tribe filed an appeal over the District Court’s denial of their motion to intervene, the Tribe also filed an amicus brief supporting the federal government’s appeal.
Here, the feds break off from that alliance and argue that the Tribe is not an indispensable party to the litigation.
Now there are policy reasons why the federal government makes such an argument. Most importantly, the federal government is arguing its own case, and it is essentially advocating that what is between themselves and West Flagler Associates is just between them, and they are capable of adequately representing the interests of the Seminole Tribe without the Tribe being a party.
A quick Florida sports betting recap
In 2021, the Seminole Tribe and DeSantis surprised many by agreeing to a new gaming compact, warming what had become a chilly relationship between the Tribe and the Governor’s office.
The new gaming compact allowed sports betting in FL and mobile sports betting throughout the state. Interior did not explicitly approve the compact. Instead, they let a 45-day window to reject the compact lapse allowing the compact to come into force.
Accompanying the lapse of the 45-day window was a memorandum effectively giving the OK to the hub-and-spoke model that the compact laid out. Litigation quickly followed, and West Flagler Associates, a long-established South Florida gaming operator, sued Interior, challenging the compact.
And just like that, it was over
West Flagler Associates prevailed at the District Court, putting an end to Florida sports betting, which had only been operational for weeks. As part of the litigation, the Seminole Tribe of Florida sought to intervene, as they were not named as a party. This was also denied by the District Court.
The District Court’s ruling that the compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and the denial of the Seminole Tribe’s motion to intervene both have been appealed and consolidated into a single case at the Court of Appeals.
After opening briefs were filed by both Interior and the Seminole Tribe, Interior filed its answer to the Seminole Tribe’s appeal.
Thanks, but we’re good alone?
The federal government’s brief opens its first argument against the Seminole Tribe’s appeal by arguing that in Administrative Procedure Act (APA) cases, the federal government should generally be the only required and indispensable party.
The government argues that:
in an APA lawsuit, the question to be resolved is whether challenged agency action will be sustained or held invalid because the agency acted unlawfully.
In other words, the question is not about any other party. The court is being asked whether the government has the right to undertake administrative action. The inclusion of a third party is generally unnecessary to that inquiry, according to the federal government.
You are not required
The government’s second argument is that the Seminole Tribe is not a required party under Rule 19(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Here, the government (which they acknowledge) departs from even the District Court, which found that the Tribe was a required party, arguing that the Court can “accord complete relief” on the claims sought by the plaintiff without the Tribe being a party to the litigation.
The government argues that the District Court was correct in finding that the federal government adequately represented the interests of the Tribe. The government argues that the Tribe’s claims that the government’s interests and the Tribe’s interests do not line up is inconsistent with other cases where it was found that the government adequately represented tribal interests.
The Tribe’s criticism of the federal government’s litigation strategy “is not grounds for deeming the government as an inadequate representative,” according to the government.
Indeed, the government’s litigation strategy received fairly significant critique from not only the Tribe but also from the District Court judge at times. The government argues that if the Tribe wants to argue a separate line of reasoning, they can file an amicus brief, which they have already done.
And another one …
The government then argues that even if the Tribe is a required party, the District Court was correct in ruling that they were not an indispensable party under Rule 19(b).
The government further argues that there is adequate room for the case to proceed without the Seminole Tribe as a party.
What to make of Florida sports betting brief
Perhaps one of the key things about this brief is one of the things it does not say.
The Seminole Tribe advanced two intervention arguments in its appeal. The first was under Rule 19; however, the second was under Rule 24, which would allow for limited intervention.
While the government takes exception to the Tribe’s Rule 19 argument, the fed’s brief does not mention the Tribe’s Rule 24 argument. This case is picking up the pace quickly with an answering brief from West Flagler Associates due later this week. We should start getting a more complete picture of this case even though a decision is still like six months to a year away.